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Can the Raiders continue their incredible defensive run?

Can the Raiders continue their incredible defensive run? Can the Raiders continue their incredible defensive run?


At 2-3 overall and just 1-3 in the Great Northern Conference after back-to-back losses to Lakeland Sept. 22 and 24, the Medford Raiders’ high hopes for the 2020 boys soccer season were on the verge of going bust.

But the Raiders know their stretch of three losses in four games at the time wasn’t necessarily due to poor play. It was simply due to lack of bodies due to injuries and COVID quarantines.

They also knew there was still three weeks left in the regular season, plenty of time to build momentum.

“That week we lost two games to Lakeland, we were down players,” sophomore co-captain Zach Rudolph said. “We all came back, we regrouped and we started getting our confidence and finding what works. Then once playoffs came it was just a different brand of soccer we started playing. It was more physical. We knew where to find each other. We just had a ton of momentum coming in and we didn’t stop. We kept the same energy throughout.”

That momentum has carried the 10-3-1 Raiders all the way to the WIAA’s revised 2020 Division 2 state tournament in Marshfield. Since those 5-0 and 2-0 losses to Lakeland, the Raiders are 8-0-1, have notched seven straight defensive shutouts and are about as confident as can be heading into Saturday’s 11 a.m. semifinal match with Manitowoc Roncalli-Two Rivers (12-1-1).

“We’re pretty good now,” senior defender Ty Baker said after Saturday’s sectional final shootout with Rice Lake, which Medford won 6-5 after the teams officially played to a 0-0 tie. “Obviously they don’t let just anybody into state. I feel like we’re obviously at our peak right now. I feel like if we just keep going we might have a shot at going all the way.”

“I’m so proud of the boys,” head coach Nathan Bilodeau said Saturday. “They just turned it on. That week of COVID, for the guys that sucked. But we said, ‘let’s come back and make sure we play our hearts out’ and we haven’t lost. Brady (Hupf) hasn’t been scored on in seven games. Brady has only let in three goals all season. The brotherhood, the camaraderie, the synergy, whatever you want to call it, it’s real and we’ve got it. It’s huge. To carry that into (the sectional final), rely on each other, not get on each other’s backs about stuff. It’s huge. Now we can take that momentum into state.”

The semifinal pitting the third-seeded Raiders against the second-seeded Jets will be an intriguing matchup as it pits the highest-scoring team of the four state teams against the team whose defense is statistically playing the best of the four in recent weeks. Both teams are making their first state appearances.

For the season, Medford has allowed 11 goals and five of those came in one game during the week the team was short-handed. Medford hasn’t given up a goal in 567 minutes of soccer. Even in Saturday’s shootout, Hupf stopped four of nine shots, which is certainly better than average.

The amazing part is that defense was supposed to be Medford’s question mark this season due to inexperience.

“It’s leaps and bounds different than what it was in the beginning of the season,” Bilodeau said after Medford’s 2-0 sectional semifinal win at Rhinelander Thursday. “That’s why we’re so grateful to have a season. I knew this season was going to be a learning year for us with just the youth on our team. To see the growth, the physicality and the mental awareness from the back four, it’s just huge. They feed off Ty. We really lean on Ty to be a leader on the defense back there. They feed off of him, he’s a great leader, he shows them how to do it, he’s talking to them out there, which is going to carry into next year for us.”

“It was crazy,” Baker said Saturday. “It was kinda cool for us to be second in the conference and then to have us go all the way to state. It kinda shows us that we should’ve been first in the conference the whole time too. But I’m glad we’re going to state.”

The Jets have averaged 4.8 goals per game in the 12 contests they’ve played on the field. They have two forfeit wins over Stockbridge as part of their overall record and 8-0 mark in the East Central Conference.

The man to watch is Tyler Bonin, a 6-foot, 167-pound senior forward who had 29 goals and two assists through the team’s first 10 games. The Jets have scored at least five goals in seven of their wins, including a 10-0 win over Sheboygan Falls and a 9-0 win over New Holstein.

Junior goal keeper Greg Oberbroeckling has seven shutouts to his credit as the Jets allowed just 0.73 goals per game.

Medford’s 0.78 goals allowed per game is right with them. Hupf allowed just three of the 11 goals in 11 games played. He was one of the players quarantined during that week in September. He was tremendous in the win over Rhinelander Thursday with 14 saves as the Raiders avenged a 1-0 loss suffered to the Hodags on Sept. 17, a result that ultimately decided the conference championship.

Medford has scored 35 goals for a modest average of 2.5 goals per game. Putting up big offensive numbers isn’t particularly the goal in the Raiders’ possessthe- ball style of play, but is noteworthy that in the last nine games, even with senior co-captain and midfielder Owen Wipf missing three games due to another quarantine, the Raiders have upped their average to 3.3 goals per game and that number is brought down by Saturday’s shutout with defensive-minded Rice Lake.

“I think a lot of us realized we didn’t like losing. That was a hard week.” Wipf said of Medford’s mid-season struggles. “We lost a lot of important players, but once they came back, they were jacked because they didn’t like to see us lose. We just practiced hard. We prepared. We watched film. We didn’t get the conference this year because of that week I think, but we still had a spectacular season. That week was just one of the many ups and downs.”

Now the Raiders get one more day to hopefully add more of those ups.

“Anything’s possible right?” Bilodeau said. “I think we have a lot of good things going for us statistically on paper, we have wind in our sails. We have a lot of momentum.”

The other side

The other side of the state bracket features the fourth-seeded Sauk Prairie Eagles (10-2-3) challenging top-seeded Delavan-Darien Comets (11-2) at 2 p.m. The semifinal winners will play for the championship at 7 p.m.

Delavan-Darien took second in the Southern Lakes Conference at 7-2, with both losses coming to champion Elkhorn. The 13-0 Elks are part of the Division 1 state field.

The Comets are more of a defensiveminded team like Medford, averaging 3.9 goals per game, but allowing only 1.1. Coming from the suburban Milwaukee area, they played some tough competition in the post-season, beating Greendale Martin Luther 2-0 and Saint Thomas More 4-1 in the regional rounds and New Berlin Eisenhower 3-2 and Grafton 1-0 in the sectional rounds.

They feature balanced offensive scoring with Estevan Colin, Jonathan Diaz, Alan Mendez and Octavio Valadez all at seven goals or more. Colin had 10 in his first nine games.

Hector Flores, a junior, has four shutouts and a save percentage of about 80%.

The school has won three state championships, the last of which came in 2016.

The Eagles are 5-0-2 in their last seven games including a dominant postseason run. After going just 6-2-3 in the Badger North Conference, they blew out Mauston 6-0 and Portage 5-0 in regional play and beat Dodgeville-Mineral Point 3-1 and West Salem 3-0 in the sectional rounds.

Their top scorers are juniors Samual Drescher and Quinn Baier, who had 10 goals apiece heading into sectionals. Senior Luke Baumgardt has six shutouts and has allowed less than one goal per game.

The team’s losses were to Division 1 teams Watertown (2-1) and Baraboo (2-1).

Medford’s Brady Hupf stops a penalty kick from Rice Lake’s Brayden Ahlberg in the ninth round of Saturday’s sectional final shootout, opening the door for Kale Klussendorf to win the shootout 6-5 on the next kick.MATT FREY/THE STAR NEWS